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The organic imperative held hostage

“We no longer have the luxury of prevention. Now we are in the dire situation of needing a cure, a reversal. We know that correcting agriculture is an answer to climate chaos, and that it hinges on human behavior. ….The future is underfoot. It’s all about healthy soil.” This statement from ‘Coach’ Mark Smallwood, Executive […]

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Sad news for the organic vision

I wrote the passage that follows near the end of 2010, in the midst of working on a chapter about the early history of organic certification and my role in it. This experience came to mind when I heard about the abrupt dismissal of Mark Keating, a former National Organic Program (NOP) colleague who had […]

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CONFLICTS OVER ORGANIC STANDARDS Part 3 – What is the future of organic?

Part 2 of this series left off in 2002 with full implementation of the NOP (National Organic Program) twelve years after enacting the OFPA (US organic law), following years of internal and external battles. The general message communicated by the activist community was that the new regulation was far from perfect, but acceptable, but that […]

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CONFLICTS OVER ORGANIC STANDARDS Part 2: Organic standards become law

This is the second of three articles published by The Organic Standard (TOS), an international online publication aimed at public and private organic policy makers, certifiers and businesses.  This part appears in the September, 2010 issue (see Part 1 of this story left off in the late 1980s, as the stage was set for […]

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CONFLICTS OVER ORGANIC STANDARDS– Part I, History of organic standard-setting and controversies

NOTE: This article was published in the August 2010 issue of The Organic Standard, an international on-line publication aimed at policy makers, certifiers and the organic trade, published by Grolink AB, a Swedish consulting company ( This is the first of a three-part series that The Organic Standard (TOS) will publish on the story of […]

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New Roots for Inspiration

I had the good fortune to be able to attend a talk by Wes Jackson on Monday, sponsored by the University of Vermont Department of Plant & Soil Sciences. The room was packed with eager agriculture students as well as local agricultural luminaries such as Fred Magdoff. Among them were John and Nancy Todd, founders […]

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More backwards hype about “the soul of organic”

A recent post on GRIST ( starts with an attention-grabbing but purely hyperbolic “There is a battle going on in the White House for the very soul of the organic dairy movement—and possibly over the future of small family-operated dairy farms—and you don’t even know it.”  The author goes on to acknowledge that he’d “like […]

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The paper of record and the organic urban legend

An editorial in the New York Times on November 4th expressed concern about the appointment of Dr. Islam Siddiqui (currently a VP at Crop Life America) as chief agricultural negotiator for the office of the United States trade representative.  It was gratifying to see the NYT have a position supporting organic and sustainable agriculture, and […]

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A New Day at USDA

At first we heard that she was to be Under Secretary for Marketing & Regulatory Programs, and a cheer went up from the world of organic and sustainable food advocates. Then came the news that Kathleen Merrigan was to be Deputy Secretary of the whole freakin USDA, and the din of our jubilation filled cyberspace. […]

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Reflections on NOFA-VT past and future

The following was written for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) newsletter, at the request of Enid Wonnacott, Executive Director. My involvement with NOFA began in 1975, when I helped organize a farmers market that is now in Newport, VT.  “Local food for local Markets” was the primary approach at that time–it only […]

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